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The Saxophone Summit – A celebration of the Tenor

30th October 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

“The power of three tenors sort of sounds like a train coming down the tracks,” says saxophonist Derek Douget, who will be joined to make such a joyful noise by fellow tenorists Ed Petersen and Stephen Riley on Saturday, November 4. The free event, which takes place at the George and Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center, has been dubbed Saxophone Summit though it could well have – with a bow – taken its name from Sonny Rollins’ 1956 landmark album Tenor Madness on which the “saxophone colossus” teamed up with the jazz giant of tenor John Coltrane for the title cut.

It’s just possible that Douget, Petersen and Riley, backed by drummer Ricky Sebastian and bassist Peter Harris, will delve into that classic during the section of the show when all three take the stage together. Other possibilities for exploration by the tenor saxophonists include trading bars as greats Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins did while on the bandstand with leader Count Basie. Douget, who is taking over the organization aspects of the performance, seemed intrigued by the idea of taking on material heard on tenor saxophonist Jimmy Griffins’ 1975 Blue Note album, Blowin’ Sessions, that featured Coltrane and Hank Mobley.

The tentative plan for the night, according to Douget, is that each of the saxophonists will be featured playing individually the material of their choice before hitting the stage all together. Douget, who grew up in Gonzales, Louisiana before moving to the Crescent City to attend the University of New Orleans (UNO), will play at least one of his original tunes with the combo while also paying tribute to one of his professors and mentors, saxophonist and producer Harold Battiste.



“I usually try not to do a show lately without playing “Beautiful Old Ladies” by Harold Battiste just because it reminds me of Harold,” Douget offers. “I don’t even like to solo on it; I just like to play the melody because it’s so beautiful.”

Douget has performed many times with Petersen, who was his professor at UNO and who he considers his mentor. They, of course, blew side-by side in the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO) and also often at private gigs. When bassist Neal Caine came to town to promote his album, Backstabber’s Ball, and needed two tenor saxophonists, he hired Douget and Petersen to fill in for Riley and Ted Gould. “Ed and I play together more than you would think considering we play the same instrument,” says Douget.

Petersen was on the faculty of UNO when Douget received a full scholarship to study at the university. “We both have the saxophone nerd gene if there’s such a thing,” says Douget of their affinity for each other. “He taught me to be an even better saxophone nerd,” he adds with a laugh. “I didn’t really have trouble playing the instrument, it was more about him guiding me. Our lessons were cool because at a certain point we just got to practice together. We would take songs and play them in every key and in different meters.”

Douget has performed just once before with Riley, a native of Greenville, North Carolina. It was during the period when the Louisiana saxist was living in New York following Katrina and he and Riley both blew with Marcus Roberts when did the pianist did his “Deep in the Shed” show at Lincoln Center. Previously, he was aware of Riley’s work particularly during the saxophonist’s tenure with trumpeters Wynton Marsalis and Marcus Printup.

Naturally, each of the saxophonists performing at the Summit each have their individual styles and roots. “Stephen’s influence is Paul Gonsalves (saxophonist with Duke Ellington’s band noted for his 27-chorus solo at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival) like big time — his sound and even in his musical choices. I’m coming more out of Wayne Shorter and John Coltrane. Ed encapsulates all of those things but he definitely is a Chicago tenor player – he comes out of that tradition, the free jazz and the sound.”

Since 2010, Douget, 42,, has also been affiliated with the Jazz & Heritage Foundation as the coordinator of music education of its Don “Moose” Jamison Heritage School of Music. The program which has expanded and changed locations through the years, now benefits over 200 students attending its afternoon and Saturday classes and its just added beginners’ program.

“Hopefully, what I’ve brought to them is to focus on the fundamentals – reading, playing in tune, listening,” says Douget of passing forward the lessons he learned from great teachers like Petersen, Battiste, clarinetist Alvin Batiste and pianist Ellis Marsalis. “I emphasize that jazz is a language with many dialects. You can’t really learn how to play jazz by just reading notes and you really can’t learn to play jazz without listening to jazz.” “Cool” technology in the acoustically designed Jazz & Heritage Center, where the classes — as well as concerts — are now held, are, he says, an aid in engaging and teaching his students.

Douget, remembers falling in love with the saxophone at first sight. “I didn’t know how it sounded or even what it was but it was like, ‘That’s what I’m going to play.’ It just looked cooler than any of the other instruments.”

Thus, at age 10, he began to develop what became a chronic, life-long case of tenor madness.

Showtimes for the Jazz & Heritage Concert Series’ “Saxophone Summit” are 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.

This article originally published in the October 30, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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